Everything inside Tommy’s Sandwich Shop seems to hearken back to the 1970s.
From the Billy Joel tunes blasting from the speakers to the Formica tables and shiny steel napkin holders, everything looks like a holdover from the era when the Beatles were just slightly out of fashion and Jimmy Carter roamed the White House.
Tommy Smith, who opened the place in 1977, still greets his customers with a friendly smile, but he is not happy about his current situation.
He’s closing the lunchtime fixture on the square, which sits right across from the courthouse complex, at the end of this month.
“My landlord won’t work with me, whatsoever,” he said Tuesday. “ We've sent letters back and forth, and he just won’t come off his rent.”
Smith says he received a letter on Jan. 15 from Manning Properties, which owns the building at 148 Roswell St., notifying him that his monthly rent would increase from $1,200 to $1,750 as of Feb. 1.
After two months at the higher rate, Smith has decided it’s just not worth it to stay in business.
So, after 36 years behind the counter of the square’s oldest restaurant, Smith is folding his tent. His last day preparing breakfasts and lunches for downtown workers and visitors will be March 29.
“Business has been really slow for the last four years,” he said. “ We've got 31 other restaurants we’re competing against here on the square. It’s a food court now. You can only divide the pot so many times.”
Back in 1977 when Smith opened Tommy’s, there were only three other places to eat on the Marietta Square, he said. There was a Greek restaurant and a couple of drug stores with lunch counters.
These days, folks have their choice of Thai food, Australian baked goods, Italian, Mediterranean, Irish, English, a New York deli and traditional American fare.
Aymar Manning of Manning Properties confirmed that his company has raised the rent on Tommy’s space.
“Tommy’s been a good tenant,” he said. “We’ll be looking for another tenant and hope, whoever it is, is as good as Tommy was. I've had three or four calls already on that space, because it really is a nice corner there.”
Manning would not comment on his plans for the building, at the corner of Roswell and Atlanta streets, which he said has been “in the family” since it was built back in the early 1900s.
“I’m going to wait and see what happens and who might want to do what with it,” he said.
Before it became a restaurant in 1977, the building was the longtime home of Groover's Hardware, which later became Cobb Hardware and moved off the square.
Sad day for loyal customers
Tommy’s regular customers looked surprised Tuesday when told that their favorite place to spend their lunch hour will soon be serving its last sandwich.
“I like his chicken salad, and I like the egg salad. It’s all good,” said Mindy Eason, who works at United Community Bank on the square and has been coming to Tommy’s for lunch since the mid-1980s. “I like everything about it. The food, just the whole atmosphere, the workers. And you can come and sit and watch the traffic go by, then go for a walk on the square afterwards.”
Jefrey Breshears said he has been coming to Tommy’s for 30 years. He said Smith always knows what to start making — roast beef on rye — as soon as he walks in the door.
“We raised our family just off the square and brought friends and family in here over the years. I would tell them that Tommy could actually read people’s minds. He’ll be missed,” Breshears said. “There’s not many places like this anymore, where you actually know the proprietor. But, as George Harrison once said, ‘All things must pass.’”
Smith said he just started telling his most loyal customers the bad news over the past couple of days.
“Most of them don’t believe me yet,” he said. “They’re like, ‘No way!’ I’m the oldest restaurant on the square.”
Owner may resurface in west Cobb
Smith said he has no plans to reopen his shop elsewhere.
“No sir. I've had enough fun in the restaurant business,” he said. “Thirty-six years is long enough.”
But he isn't ready to retire. He’s mulling a comeback as a liquor store proprietor.
“We’re thinking about opening a liquor store in west Cobb,” Smith said, adding that he has his eye on a vacant store front at the intersection of Acworth Due West and Kennesaw Due West roads.
“Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise,” he said. “Who knows?”